Sullivan County Democrat
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Dan Hust | Democrat

Sullivan County has held on to 45 acres it foreclosed on this year near the entrance to the landfill in Monticello, and a quick, weeklong study is under way to determine its potential usefulness as a site for the new jail (which would be located beyond the tree line).

Legislators continue to wrestle over jail

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — July 13, 2010 — Legislators on Thursday basically abandoned the Sullivan Correctional Facility Annex as the home of the new county jail, but there’s now another competitor to the just-purchased Mapes site in Monticello.
The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which owns the 51-acre annex property, recently responded to a letter from County Manager David Fanslau and Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante.
County and town officials were feeling out the state on its willingness to sell or lease the now-closed annex, but the state was attempting the same with locals.
“Certain information will be useful in determining whether and under what circumstances the facility will be able to be transferred to the municipalities,” ESDC Senior Counsel Jonathan Beyer wrote to Fanslau and Vegliante on June 18. “Accordingly, can you please confirm that the facility is (a) intended to be owned by the municipalities, (b) intended to be used as a municipal correctional facility, and (c) operated by the municipalities as a correctional facility.”
The letter also informed that an unspecified amount of bonds remain outstanding on the property.
“That, by the way, was not what we were initially told,” replied Legislator Leni Binder.
Fanslau said the county was seeking the terms of transfer – as in whether the state would require payments or basically give it to the county/town.
“The key issue here is that the state has still not given us an answer,” observed Binder.
“I feel like we’re dealing with a used-car salesman,” quipped Legislator David Sager. “Just give me the price of the car!”
With the state Commission of Correction (CoC) bearing down on the county to replace its 100-year-old jail, Fanslau pushed legislators to make a site choice.
While some interest remained in the annex property, legislators pointed out that the current buildings would not be usable for the jail, likely resulting in no cost savings with the existing design.
Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis thus introduced a resolution to pick the Mapes site, 40 acres recently bought by the county near Route 17’s Exit 104.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have to get to CoC in short order with our plans,” Rouis explained.
But in the end, legislators only agreed to send a letter back to the ESDC stating that the county/town remain interested in the annex property for municipal uses other than a jail.
“It really is a wonderful site for consolidation of a fire company,” suggested Legislator Jodi Goodman.
As for definitively picking a jail site, Sager promoted an alternative to the Mapes location – 45 acres foreclosed on by the county this year off East Broadway in Monticello, next to the entrance to the landfill.
“I believe the buildout process would be much less because you’re not on a rock ledge,” Sager said, referring to the ground beneath the Mapes site.
He also felt methane from the next-door landfill could be used to heat the jail. The building itself would be virtually invisible from public areas, including the nearby Apollo property, which is being eyed for redevelopment.
Besides, he added, “these facilities are not really ugly structures.”
Anticipating replies that the CoC had previously looked at other landfill-adjacent sites and dismissed them, Sager reiterated his belief that the county can proceed without state permission.
“If the CoC is not going to fund us, they can go pound sand as far as telling us where to site the jail,” he stated.
“If we don’t build on the Mapes site, what are we doing with it?” wondered Goodman.
“It could be sold in the future,” replied Sager, when the economy is in better shape.
“But what would be the cost to start all over?” questioned Legislature Vice Chair Elwin Wood.
Fanslau said a yearlong (or more) environmental review process would have to be undertaken, and he felt that the CoC would have to give its approval.
Plus, he and Public Works Commissioner Bob Meyer said borings would have to be taken, as they suspect the soils are very wet in that location, and any building may require pilings.
Legislator Alan Sorensen thus worried about structural problems.
“The real issue is stability,” he remarked. “You can see the Apollo settled eight inches in some spots.”
Nevertheless, Sager felt the county should give it a look, and Sorensen agreed, saying the next week could be spent doing “a very preliminary, upfront assessment of that property.”
The motion to choose the Mapes site was withdrawn, though it may be back on the table this Thursday.
Monticello resident Tom Manza, who lives about a mile from the Mapes location, urged legislators to take their time.
“I don’t think it should be rushed through in a week or two weeks,” he said.
“We’ve been talking about this site for four years,” replied Legislator Kathy LaBuda. “... We’re not rushing.”
Still, Manza insisted the county work hard to find another site, as he and other neighbors feel the Mapes location is not ideal.
Sheriff Mike Schiff, who was not present at nor previously informed of the meeting, told the Democrat later in the week that he, too, would prefer a site near the landfill.
But the dump’s very proximity, he felt, nixes the possibility of a nearby jail in the eyes of the CoC – mainly because inmates, who often spend time researching in the jail’s law library, might find plenty of environmental reasons to sue. That would cost the county and state money, even if the suits were tossed.
Schiff added that the county’s “green” consultant, Dick Riseling, recently told him the landfill’s methane-producing abilities are on the decline, now that it’s closed.
“And the site would need extensive investigation,” he remarked, “... 16-24 months. It wouldn’t be quick.”
The state so far has closed 44 of the jail’s 207 cells, the sheriff said, and he’s worried the CoC will be even tougher if the county doesn’t choose a site soon.
“We have to show we’re doing due diligence,” he explained.

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